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Slain American missionary John Chau to be honored on 'Day of the Christian Martyr'

John Chau
John Chau in an undated photo |

A prominent Christian persecution advocacy organization will honor the legacy and sacrifice of American missionary John Chau, who lost his life while taking the Gospel to a remote island in the Indian Ocean in 2018. 

On Wednesday, Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), a nonprofit, interdenominational missions organization serving persecuted Christians around the world, will add Chau's name to the 60-foot-long granite Martyr's Memorial at the ministry headquarters in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

Chau was 26 years old when he was killed on Nov. 17, 2018, while on a mission to North Sentinel Island in the Andaman Islands, located in the Bay of Bengal about 600 miles from mainland India.

Chau, a graduate of Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma, was killed by an indigenous tribe that lives in isolation from the rest of the world. 

June 29 marks the Day of the Christian Martyr and the anniversary of the Apostle Paul's beheading in Rome. Throughout Church history, Christians worldwide have commemorated the lives of countless believers who've given their lives for Christ.

With the help of a fishing boat, Chau first made contact with the Sentinelese people — considered by many to be the "most isolated tribe on the planet" — on Nov. 15, 2018, according to VOM. 

Later that day, a Sentinelese boy shot an arrow at Chau that lodged in the Bible he was holding.

In his journal that evening, Chau wrote: "God, I don't want to die … WHO WILL TAKE MY PLACE IF I DO? Forgive [the boy who shot me] and any of the people on this island who try to kill me, and especially forgive them if they succeed."

On the morning of Nov. 17, the fishermen who dropped Chau off on the island saw tribesmen burying his body on the beach.

John Chau was ‘listening to God’s voice,’ would not want his body recovered
A montage of slain U.S. missionary John Chau. |

Indian authorities called Chau's efforts to evangelize the unreached Sentinelese tribe a "misplaced adventure" in a highly restricted area. His death, which received international media attention, inspired much scrutiny of mission organizations trying to reach unreached and uncontacted tribes. 

But Todd Nettleton, host of VOM Radio, told The Christian Post that a closer look at Chau's life and death reveal his Christ-like compassion, extensive training and preparation, and clear-headed conviction of his calling to the Sentinelese people.

"We as the Church should recognize those who follow Christ's call to go into all the world regardless of the cost. And John Chau is certainly an outstanding example of that," Nettleton said.

Far from being an impulsive adventurer, Nettleton says Chau first felt God's calling on his life after returning from his first mission trip as a teenager.

Nettleton said Chau spent time praying and preparing to go wherever God would call him, researching different people groups until he came across info online about the Sentinelese people. 

"Every single decision he made was with an eye toward going to North Sentinel Island, meeting those people, learning their language, being able to share Christ with them," Nettleton said.

Nine years before his trip, Nettleton says Chau began preparing physically and spiritually for his journey.

Throughout college at Oral Roberts University, Chau took cold showers to prepare for life on the island, knowing he would be without hot water. He underwent laser eye surgery so he wouldn't have to worry about contact lenses.

Nettleton said that Chau also went through a training process with the Kansas City-based missionary organization All Nations under its Church Planting Experience program for future missionaries.

Chau took a linguistics training course sponsored by Wycliffe to pick up the Sentinelese language quickly. He earned a certification as a wilderness EMT with the idea of bringing medical assistance to the isolated island people.

Dr. Mary Ho, the international executive leader of All Nations International, called Chau one of the "most prepared missionaries she has ever met," according to Nettleton.

After Chau's death in 2018, Nettleton claimed there was a "lot of misinformation" floating around about the circumstances surrounding his death.

While some of that may have been Chau's own design to protect anyone who might go after him, Nettleton added: "So much of the misinformation about John was that lack of preparation, like he woke up one morning and just decided to go to North Sentinel Island." 

"That is so far from the truth," Nettleton assured. 

While Chau believed in God's calling on his life, he wasn't shy about expressing doubt about sharing the Gospel with hostile and unpredictable people groups. 

In a video Chau made for a church supporting his mission, Nettleton said Chau was wondering whether he was truly called to the island after his first scouting trip to the area.

As he took off from Port Blair, leaving to come back to the U.S., Nettleton says Chau glanced out the airplane window and saw the sight of an island he instantly recognized from photos he had up on the wall of his college dorm. 

Chau knew the island by name and knew where he was headed.

"He said in that moment, it was like God just completely confirmed, 'You're the one I want, you're the one I'm calling, that's the place I'm calling you to, I want you to go there,'" Nettleton said.

In his journal, the night before he went ashore for what would be the final time, Chau also expressed doubt. 

"I believe that the measure of success in the kingdom of God is obedience," Chau wrote. "I want my life to reflect obedience to Christ and to live in obedience to Him. I think that Jesus is worth it. He's worth everything."

"He understood the value of the Gospel, he understood the eternal significance of sharing Christ with the Sentinelese people, and he considered [losing his life] a fair trade," said Nettleton.

Chau's father, Patrick Chau, said he did not support his son's missionary zeal.

While both graduated from charismatic evangelical Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma, Patrick Chau said he no longer considers himself a Christian but rather a follower of the Chinese philosopher Confucius.

"John is gone because the Western ideology overpowered my [Confucian] influence," Chau was quoted as writing, adding that evangelical "extreme Christianity" was to blame for his son's life coming to a "not unexpected end."

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